It’s unofficially official. The predicted and expected outcome of the meeting between upper management and Terry Francona will result in the firing of Terry Francona. This will end both a marvelous and frustrating eight year tenure (2004-2011) that concluded in two World Series titles and one epic collapse.
While the sting of the Red Sox final game of the season will resonate all the long, dreary winter, and someone’s head surely must be served on a silver platter, I simply can not place the blame on the manager. To the contrary, I think Theo and the Trio are making a huge mistake if they let him go. Rumor has it that it may not actually be a manager sacking, that it may actually be Francona wants to be cut loose in order to step into the Chicago White Sox manager position just vacated by Ozzie Guillen. Who cares if it’s a “You can’t fire me, I quit!” scenario, the harsh truth is that the loss of Francona at the helm of this monster Red Sox team is a greater loss than many can fathom.
GM Theo Epstein and the trio ownership of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Luccino not only created a baseball dynasty that changed the entire persona of what it was to be a Red Sox fan, they changed the experience of the game at Fenway Park.
Prior to the Four Horsemen of Boston’s Baseball Renaissance, gritty, die-hard fans filed into the tiny, gritty, crumbling stadium and sat shoulder-to-shoulder. They could spout off stats and histories of the players of both the Red Sox players and the opposing teams, answer questions and debate while keeping a perfectly accurate score card and tell an obnoxious blow hard to shut the f@ck up when the nonsense went on too long. Today it’s not just a game, it’s an experience. Fans are entertained by things that have absolutely nothing to do with an actual game of baseball: gourmet meals, theme days, the Neil Diamond love fest in the middle of the eighth inning, player theme songs and souvenirs that are every color of the pastel rainbow (and adorned with watermelons and Disney characters) except the actual team colors. The 21st century ushered in a brand new show for all of baseball and Red Sox upper management played a huge part in bringing in this new form of distraction to the Great American Game.
Somewhere along the lines of winning and entertaining, the magic of what the Boston Red Sox could do since shaking off an 86 year Curse of the Bambino became a curse in itself. The Red Sox have failed to make the play offs for the third year in a row. Why this is such a big deal? Because they have the 2nd largest payroll in Major League Baseball and essentially the new order is based on the Yankee dogma that the he who spends the most money gets the best team and wins. The harsh reality is that money can’t buy a championship. The mega bank-rolled Boston Red Sox upper management loaded the roster with a lot of high maintenance, baby-hands-basket-case personalities that lack the ability, perspective or heart to develop into what it takes to make a team.
Terry Francona’s steady and calm outward demeanor kept a tight lid on his management of huge personalities inside the clubhouse. He was pleasant and deferential during his press conferences which made some sports writers think he was soft and easily bullied but the truth was he handled this team over the years lights-out. He shouldered responsibility for disappointing losses and always stood beside upper management in team decisions. He is optimistic and prior to September 2011, he’d spin an upside to any disaster–and there were more than quite a few Theo-trade personalities he’s had to deal with: Keith Foulke (hero in 2004, zero in 2005), that nut case Tavarez, semi-sober David Wells, Daisuke Matsusaka and the maritally challenged John Lackey. What about the short-stop curse beginning with Edgar Rent-a-wreck over the proven Orlando Cabrera and followed by an over-priced conga line of Alex Gonzalez, Alex Cora, Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Jed Lowry and Marco Scutero. And there are the over-paid under performers like Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew and most recently Carl Crawford who just suck the life blood out of the team. During the challenges of his time as manager, Tito had been able to outwardly handle all sides of the pressures of his position. He remained loyal to upper management and most importantly, steadfast to his players while either answering to or skillfully deflecting the grinding inquiries of the sports press corps.
That is until the middle of 2011 when Francona’s armor wore thin and he began admitting difficulty in getting to the heart of key matters in the clubhouse. His answers in press conferences sounded rote and almost rehearsed when it came to questions about Lackey, Daisuke, Drew and Crawford. After the most successful August in team history, September’s disgraceful slide to collapse brought to light how upper management felt about Francona’s responsibility for the Red Sox horrendous play. They couldn’t buy the key win.
Of course you can’t have an end of season implosion that the 2011 Boston Red Sox experienced without someone taking the blame. And it’s easy to blame Francona. Too easy. Yet there’s a bottom line to consider beyond the who’s at the helm of a mega-million dollar yatch. It has to float. Theo Epstein is a very fortunate young man who has the ability, with heavy assistance from his computer Carmine, to crunch numbers and pay for the best statistical team every year BUT he can’t buy team chemistry. He can’t predict injuries and he doesn’t have a magic brain scan that can ferret out a club house killer head case. He’s been standing on the shoulders of giants without heeding the most important lesson: the heart of the team isn’t in the payroll.
From A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti
by A. Bartlett Giamatti, et al
The Green Fields of the Mind
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.
Read by Joe Castiglone 9/29/11 at the close to the 2011 Red Sox season on WEEI.